Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

March 24, 2010

Eileen Larrabee
Dan Keefe
518-462-2594

First Niagara Answers New York’s Call to Save the Empire State Games with a Donation of $500,000 to Promote its Long-Term Future Financial Stability

First Niagara is the first corporate contributor to the State's $1 million private fundraising goal and is leading the charge in securing additional state-wide support and corporate commitments

First Niagara Financial Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: FNFG) is donating $500,000 to underwrite the summer 2010 Empire State Games and promote the long-term financial viability of New York State's annual Winter Games, Senior Games, Games for the Physically Challenged and Summer Games.

"First Niagara is focused on helping families and businesses across New York State achieve their hopes, dreams and personal aspirations," said John R. Koelmel, president and chief executive officer of the community-oriented bank holding company serving customers across Upstate New York and Pennsylvania. "The Games are vital to the fabric of our State and an excellent outlet for local and regional competitors to showcase their skills, and we are committed to going above and beyond to keep the full slate of state-wide competitions on solid financial footing for years to come. Much like our Mentoring Matters program, our investment in the Games will positively impact and nurture the skills and talents of young people across New York State in order for them to reach their full potential."

First Niagara's donation represents half of the funds necessary for this year's $1 million Empire State Games private fundraising goal announced by New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation officials in September 2009. The Summer Games were not held during 2009 due to budgetary reasons. The financial impact of the Games is significant. It is estimated that the Empire State Games will generate close to $15 million dollars for the Western New York community.

"On behalf of the people of New York, I offer my profound thanks to First Niagara Financial Group for this generous gift to the Empire State Games program," said Governor David A. Paterson. "It is heartening to see one of our state's leading private businesses step up in these difficult economic times to help preserve this great athletic tradition. I applaud First Niagara's partnership with state government in bringing this exciting athletic competition – and thousands of athletes and fans – to the great city of Buffalo."

"When we decided to restore the summer Empire State Games in 2010, we were keenly aware of the need to secure private funding from corporate entities conducting business in New York State," said Carol Ash, State Parks Commissioner, "The willingness of First Niagara to standout amid the crowd is a shining example of their dedication to the residents and youth athletes of the State and is the springboard for sustaining the flame of the Games for the foreseeable future."

At the March 24th news conference held at First Niagara's corporate Headquarters at the Larkin and Exchange building, Koelmel was joined by local Buffalo Niagara 2010 Summer Games committee co-chairs Jack Quinn, President of Erie Community College, and John Simpson, President of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he issued a local, regional and state-wide challenge to public and private corporate entities to join in the mission of saving the Games.

Next week, Koelmel and Quinn will be hosting a special leader's luncheon in Buffalo and at that time will encourage other local CEOs to join the challenge. They will also take their message to regional businesses across the state in order to keep the tradition of the Games alive for many years to come.

"The Empire State Games are an important institution and source of great pride for all New Yorkers. The Western New York region is proud to host the more than 6,000 amateur athletes that will descend on the Buffalo Niagara area during the summer months, and we are excited for the economic impact the Games will bring to Western New York," Quinn said. "While we recognize the Summer Games will benefit Western New York, our efforts will be keenly focused on securing the resources and funds so all of New York State - future youth athletes and parents, alike - can experience the tradition of the Games in 2010 and beyond."

"As a parent of a child that competed in the Games, I know how meaningful this event is to its athletes, their parents and the great State of New York," Koelmel added. "The Empire State Games are cause for all of us, upstate and downstate, to celebrate being New Yorkers. While the state faces challenges, for many of us, New York is the only place we would ever call home. The Empire State Games is a wonderful way to celebrate that shared pride. The Buffalo Niagara region is proud serve as the host city for the summer 2010 Empire State Games."

Established more than 32 years ago, the Hugh L. Carey Empire State Games include the Summer Games, Winter Games, Senior Games and Games for the Physically Challenged, and are the foundation for grassroots amateur sports competitions in the United States. The Empire State Games is a program of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, a member of the National Congress of State Games, and recognized by the United States Olympic Committee.

New York State Parks raises private funds to support the Games through its affiliated public benefit corporation, the Natural Heritage Trust. Donations to support the Empire State Games can be made by visiting www.nysparks.com.

About First Niagara Financial Group: First Niagara Financial Group, Inc., through its wholly owned subsidiary, First Niagara Bank, will have $19.7 billion in assets, 254 branches and $13.7 billion in deposits at the close of its acquisition of Harleysville National Corporation, which is subject to regulatory approval. First Niagara Bank is a community-oriented bank providing financial services to individuals, families and businesses across Upstate New York and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.fnfg.com.